Friday, March 21, 2014

Illinois Supreme Court overturns eavesdropping law as unconstitutional

          Until March 20, 2014, Illinois had one of the most restrictive eavesdropping laws in the United States. In a landmark decision the Illinois Supreme Court struck down that law and until the state assembly comes up with a new eavesdropping law it would seem Illinois now has little to protect private conversations from being recorded. The law struck down was as follows:
(a) A person commits eavesdropping when he: (1) Knowingly and intentionally uses an eavesdropping device for the purpose of hearing or recording all or any part of any conversation or intercepts, retains, or transcribes electronic communication unless he does so (A) with the consent of all of the parties to such conversation or electronic communication...
          The Supreme Court did this because it stated the law went too far in its effort to protect individuals’ interest in the privacy of their communications.  This really incurred because of a 1994 change in the law that removed the idea that the only type of protected conversations were those of a private nature. In other words if the purpose of the law were to protect private conversations, then the law should have been limited to private conversations. However the 1994 law made the recording of every type of conversation without the permission of all the participants illegal. Thus even if you recorded a conversation in public such a police stop or a court case, you could be prosecuted.
          That is what happened in this case when Mr. Clark recorded part of a court proceeding without permission of all the participants.  The Supreme Court discussed the idea that it was unfair to allow  someone to write down word-for-word a conversation but then make it illegal to tape record those discussions -  particularly where there would be no expectation of privacy.
           It is fully expected the legislature will redraft and pass a revised eavesdropping law. In the meantime while one might believe there are absolutely no bars against tape-recording any type of conversation, I’m not sure that I would go that far to say you're in the clear to do so. In any case it is a new day and the harshness of the prior law is gone.
           You can read the entire case of People v. Clark here.